Go to Content | Go to Page Updated Information | Go to Footer
Welcome to the California Energy Commission
Public Interest Energy Research Program: Final Report
PIER Environmental Area Research Plan:
Environmental Context and Key Environmental Issues

Publication Number: 600-01-014
Publication Date: Month 2004

The executive summary, abstract and table of contents for this report are available below. This publication is available as an Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format Files. In order to download, read and print PDF files, you will need a copy of the free Acrobat Reader software installed in and configured for your computer. The software can be downloaded from Adobe Systems Incorporated's website.

Download Document in Adobe Acrobat PDF. (147 pages, 651 kilobytes)

Executive Summary

In 1996, California adopted legislation that drastically revamped operation of this State's investor-owned electric services industry. The legislation also authorized collection of a surcharge on retail electricity sales to ensure a continuation of public interest energy research, development, and demonstration projects. Energy-related environmental research is one of six[1] subject areas identified for funding in the enabling legislation.

As an element of a larger effort, the California Energy Commission is preparing a Research Plan for the Public Interest Energy Research Environmental Area (PIEREA). The Research Plan will be a long-term plan (of at least five years) that will be used for targeting research projects through the PIEREA. These projects will focus on the environmental issues associated with the generation, transmission, distribution, and use of electricity in the State. Four subject areas have been identified for preliminary investigation: (1) aquatic resources; (2) land use and habitat; (3) outdoor air quality; and (4) global climate change. The plan is expected to be updated biannually.

This report represents the first major deliverable in the ultimate development of a programmatic research plan. It provides information on how the generation, transmission, distribution, and use of electricity in the State are affected by market, technological, demographic, and regulatory drivers and trends. Each of these drivers and trends affects the State's environment and influences which environmental issues the State must address. The PIEREA team identified crosscutting drivers and trends: (1) growing economy, (2) increasing population, (3) increasing electricity consumption and demand, (4) increasing public concern about the environment, (5) electric power industry restructuring, (6) strong environmental policies, rules, and regulations, and (7) the promotion of new technologies. The PIEREA team also identified more specific drivers and trends affecting the subject areas of concern (aquatic resources, land use and habitat, outdoor air quality, and global climate change).

The PIEREA team examined potential environmental issues on the basis of multiple criteria (e.g., degree of urgency for resolving the issue, statewide significance of the issue, and potential for cost sharing). As a result, 11 high-priority environmental issues were selected for Fiscal Year 2001 research project targets. Issue statements for these 11 high-priority issues are listed below.

Aquatic Resources

  • Electric power plants that use water for power production or cooling alter or eliminate natural ecological and hydrological functions in aquatic systems. These facilities affect riverine, estuarine, and marine systems, and they have contributed significantly to aquatic species decline. Adverse impacts include fatality from impingement (i.e., trapping aquatic organisms against intake screens) and entrainment (i.e., passing aquatic organisms through cooling systems and pumping intake valves and turbines); blockage of fish movement and migration; fragmentation of ecosystems; and alterations in normal stream flows and temperatures. Hydroelectric power plants that use water for energy production can impact aquatic resources through alteration of upstream and downstream habitat as well as entrainment and impingement. Thermal power plants that use water for cooling can impact aquatic resources not only by impingement and entrainment at intake structures, but also may alter temperature and water quality around discharge structures.
  • The cumulative impacts of multiple hydroelectric facilities on aquatic resources and terrestrial habitats in a watershed are difficult to evaluate, because of a lack of site-specific information and appropriate methodologies.
  • Both electric power industry restructuring and the relicensing of hydropower projects are expected to affect the environmental management and stewardship of land and water resources by owners—including the potential for changes in peak power production and a shift in resource priorities. Although divestiture of investor owned utility hydropower systems has been delayed by legislation, there is a need to better identify and understand these impacts.

Land Use and Habitat

  • Wildlife and avian interactions with utility structures can result in electrocutions on poles used for distribution lines and collisions with transmission line conductors or wind turbines and supporting guy wires. Such interactions can result in negative impacts to birds, costly power outages, and violations of State and federal laws. Transmission line systems can cumulatively contribute to habitat loss and degradation, the primary factors leading to species endangerment and decreased biodiversity.

Outdoor Air Quality

  • There is a need for improved methods, tools, and data to estimate impacts of emerging energy technologies (e.g., distributed energy) and fuels on air quality.
  • There is a need for improved methods, tools, and data to quantify the air quality impacts of energy-efficiency and load management measures for preparing air quality management plan baselines and as offsets or emission reduction credits.
  • Electricity generators and the development of transmission and distribution infrastructure can increase local air emission impacts and place a disproportional burden of those impacts on local minority and low-income communities.

Global Climate Change

  • There is a need for improved methods and tools to translate global circulation modeling results to California regional climate, so that researchers can analyze the impacts of global climate change in California and an evolving electricity system in particular.
  • There is a need for improved methods, tools, and data to: (1) develop simple and accurate guidelines to estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in power plants that are attributable to the implementation of electricity conservation efforts; (2) prepare comprehensive inventories of GHG emissions (e.g., CO2 emissions and their sources, methane emissions from the operation of hydropower facilities and other sources, N2 O emissions and their sources, and other GHG emissions and their sources); and (3) develop supply curves of GHG emissions-reduction options.


  • When addressing the environmental impacts related to the generation, transmission, distribution, and use of electricity, concerns about aquatic resources, land use and habitat, air quality, and global climate change are intimately related. A whole systems approach is needed for understanding the interaction of all parts of the system, including growth, economic development, and new technologies; the influence of regulatory requirements; and how the impacts, benefits, and tradeoffs of different scenarios affect energy development and impact the environment. For example, it is not clear how future air quality management plans will contribute to efforts to reduce pollutants or if an integrated approach would reduce the total cost to the State economy. Therefore, there is a need to coordinate and integrate programs and regulations that address aquatic resources, land use and habitat, air quality, and global climate change to avoid future penalties to the State economy from costly, uncoordinated efforts.[2]*
  • There is a need for improved methods, tools, and data to estimate the benefits and impacts of emerging technologies (e.g., renewable energy) on ecosystems and air quality.*

In addition to these high-priority issues, 19 issues listed in Appendix B were considered in the initial review process. While important, these issues were given lower priority, and therefore will not be the subject of considerable further review during 2001. Reasons for this decision are: (1) research projects at the Energy Commission are currently addressing the issue; (2) the issue is not well understood; (3) the issues is not considered to be of great urgency in California at this time; or (4) other agencies are already targeting significant resources to resolving the issue. For many issues determined to be not well understood, a scoping study will be initiated to help better identify the problem. The identification and selection of additional issues (including reconsideration of the issues listed in Appendix B) will be the subject of a biannual planning effort conducted for PIEREA.

The PIEREA team sought the advice of stakeholders and technical reviewers on the merits of these issues through review of an earlier draft of this document. As a result, 66 stakeholders and technical reviewers provided comments and recommendations, which were considered in preparing this final document. The Commission will now initiate additional planning to define the goals, milestones, and strategies for addressing the high-priority issues in the form of comprehensive research plans, or roadmaps. This process will involve the creation of Planning Teams composed of individuals with specific expertise relative to the selected issues. The Planning Teams will conduct a minimum of one workshop with the research community, regulators, and key stakeholders to discuss the key issues and projects to be developed.



Table of Contents


Executive Summary

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Description of the Public Interest Energy Research Environmental Area

1.2 Planning Process

1.3 Relationship with Other PIER Efforts

1.4 Areas Not Addressed by PIEREA

1.5 Report Organization

2.0 California Context

2.1 Overview

2.2 Drivers and Trends

2.2.1 Crosscutting Drivers and Trends

2.2.2 Growing Economy

2.2.3 Increasing Population

2.2.4 Increasing Electricity Consumption and Demand

2.2.5 Increasing Public Concern about the Environment

2.2.6 Electric Power Industry Restructuring

2.2.7 Strong Environmental Policies, Rules, and Regulations

2.2.8 Promotion of New Technologies

2.3 Aquatic Resources, Land Use, and Habitat

2.3.1 The Regulatory Framework

2.3.2 Impacts, Trends, and Future Implications for Electricity

2.4 Outdoor Air Quality

2.4.1 Regulatory Framework

2.4.2 Impacts, Trends, and Future Implications for Electricity

2.4.3 New Technologies and Energy Efficiency

2.5 Global Climate Change

2.5.1 The Regulatory Framework

2.5.2 Impacts, Trends, and Future Implications for Electricity

2.5.3 New Technologies and Energy Efficiency

3.0 Environmental Issues

3.1 Issue Selection

3.1.1 Environmental Issues

3.2 High-Priority Environmental Issues

3.2.1 Aquatic Resources

3.2.2 Land Use and Habitat

3.2.3 Air Quality

3.2.4 Global Climate Change

3.2.5 Crosscutting

4.0 Next Steps

5.0 Glossary

6.0 References


Appendix A PIEREA Projects

Appendix B Environmental Issues

Appendix C Evaluation Criteria

Appendix D Stakeholder Review Group

Appendix E Highlights of the Review of the Draft Energy Commission Staff Report

List of Figures

Figure 1. PIEREA Environmental Planning Process

Figure 2. California Electricity Consumption by Sector, 1999 [Source: Energy Commission 2000b]

Figure 3. Electricity Sources in California, 1999 [Source: Energy Commission 2000c]

Figure 4. California CO2 Emissions by Sector, 1994 [Source: Energy Commission 1998c and 1998d]

Figure 5. Aquatic Resources and Land Use and Habitat

Figure 6. Outdoor Air Quality

Figure 7. Global Climate Change

Figure 8. Crosscutting Issues

List of Tables

Table 1. California Counties with the Highest NOX Emissions from Electric Utilities and Cogeneration Facilities

Page Updated:
Go to Content | Go to Page Updated Information | Go to Footer